I am walking down the sidewalk, as I do pretty much five days a week, every week. It’s late afternoon, and the sun is low as I look down at the broken concrete and the grass growing in the cracks. I glance up and see the abandoned lot between two houses. It’s mostly gravel now and some yellowed, dead growth. I shudder and keep on walking as my mind drifts back to what happened there last year.
Nobody talks about what happened there. I think I’m the only one who really remembers it, because I’m the only one who was there when it happened. The house that’s no longer there, the fading screams of the people who were trapped inside. The flickering light coming from the house in the night as I ran out the door. Turning and seeing it happen, unable to help, feeling the despair, and those people...gone.
I count the cracks in the sidewalk as I walk past the empty lot. One less than last week, but I cannot for the life of me pick out which one. I know it sounds strange, but it’s happened before. I think it happens every couple months, but I’m not sure.
Last year some friends of mine and I were checking out the house. It had been abandoned as long as we could remember, and we decided to go inside. I think it was on a dare, but I can’t remember whose idea it was. It wasn’t hard, the back door was half off its hinges as it was. The seven of us went in and hung out for a while. I think probably a couple were getting drunk, I know some were high, but mostly we were kicking around the ruined place. Water stains on the walls, doors missing. Old clothes hanging in the closets, piles of books falling apart. Boards warped by time, rusty nails sticking out of the floor where time had shifted things too far. It was a pretty good sized house for our poor old neighborhood, maybe five feet of yard on each side to the next house over.
I keep walking past the empty lot, being sure not to touch the long fronds that extend onto the sidewalk. They don’t move any more, but I still don’t like them. They’re shorter than they were last month, if just barely. I measured them once. I think some of the shortest ones are gone completely, maybe.
A few weeks after it happened, I went to one of my friends’ parent’s houses to talk to them. They let me in, and I walked in, and we talked. His parents, his little sister, and I had dinner, and it was a lot of fun, but we didn’t talk about him. I figured it was too soon. I left their small, two bedroom house, and went home. That was the first time after the event that I realized it was even worse than what I had seen, because his sister had a room to herself - it used to be a three bedroom house.
I’m almost past the lot. It’s not a long walk, only about twenty feet, but I’m not going quickly. I’m too wrapped in thought, thinking about what happened that night. I had gone into the basement alone, the rest lost upstairs, and I found some more books. One was in good condition, somehow, and I sat down and started reading it. Thick, heavy, musty, wrapped in leather, the pages were supple and smooth. The lettering was old, hand written, and I wasn’t sure how to pronounce a lot of the words in it, but I did what I could. Some of the rest came looking for me. I guess I lost track of time, because I was about halfway through the book when I looked up and they were sitting around me. They were laughing, and joking about starting a seance or something, I think. That’s when I noticed that the edges of the room looked wrong, bent. The corners looked too wide when I looked one way, or too small another way. I felt a little nauseous, like when you get off a spinning ride at the fair. I needed some air, so I put down the book for a minute and stumbled upstairs.
I’ve measured the lot a few times since then. It’s definitely smaller.
I heard someone downstairs reading from the book aloud. I could tell they had picked up where I left off. I looked down the stairs, wanting to tell them to stop, but the stairs were too crooked to walk down, especially as dizzy as I was. The stairway was twisting. I started to see things at the edge of my vision, coming out of the corners of the room. The corners were even wider now, far wider than they could be, and there were colors I cannot describe, like under a blacklight, but without glowing. The things that came out of the corners that were now holes were nothing but tentacles. I screamed in terror and half ran, half fell out the front door of the house.
I’ve gone to all my friends’ houses, and it’s the same. Their families don’t talk about them. In one’s house, the one who lived furthest from here, her bedroom was still there, but it was empty, unused. The next time I visited, it was gone, and I could not find where it would have been.
I turned and looked behind me, and the front door of the house was shut, though I had not shut it. I heard my friends screaming, and I could not bring myself to save them. It was night, but the house was lit from within by those awful colors. The tentacles erupted from the edge of the house and the ground and began reaching for me, wrapping around the house. One touched my arm, but I pulled back, and it retreated as I made it onto the sidewalk, like an invisible wall. The house started folding in on itself without moving, like a piece of paper. The screams of my friends started to fade into the distance, in a direction I cannot point to. The house and tentacles began to shrink and fade from view, and when the house was gone, only the tentacles were left. Smaller, no longer colors I cannot see, and still. They look like dead grass now, and they shrink over time.
I keep walking, and I finish crossing the empty lot that nobody talks about. It is late afternoon, and I have had a long day.
Now, where was I going?